Should your boss be able to determine which prescription medications you take at home? Should your boss have a say in how many children you have?
Most Americans would answer a resounding “No!” to these questions. Yet if current political and legal trends continue, more and more Americans may find that their health care hinges not on what their doctors think is best for them but what their bosses believe about religion.
This curious state of affairs stems from a deliberate attempt to redefine religious freedom in America. You read that right – religious liberty. A freedom that has historically been interpreted as an individual right of self-determination is being twisted into a means of controlling others and meddling in their most personal affairs. For the sake of true freedom, this must be stopped.
The Affordable Care Act mandates that certain basic services and features must be offered in employee health-care plans. Birth control is among these. Houses of worship and similar ministries are exempt from the mandate, and religiously affiliated entities (hospitals, colleges and social service groups) have been accommodated in other ways.
This is not enough for some ultra-conservative religious leaders who oppose birth control. They are insisting that any business owner should be able to deny his or her employees access to birth control no matter what the nature of the business.
Mask falls off as Faux-Libertarian Paul assigns Christian Reconstructionist to develop curriculum.
Ron Paul has just announced that he is developing a curriculum for use by homeschooling parents. He says this will teach young people to believe in freedom, yet guess who is working as the Director of Curriculum Development for this project? Gary North, the most prominent Christian Reconstructionist in the world. Freedom?
Allow me to quote what North himself has said on the subject of education and freedom. When I first came across this quote several years ago, I thought it simply too good — or too bad — to be true. Whenever a quote seems too perfect, I tend to assume that it is until I track it down in an original source. And this one turned out to be accurate. He wrote this in 1982 in an article entitled “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right” in Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture. You can still read it online.
“So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”
The Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy want you to think that the overwhelming majority of people of faith are opposed to the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate, but that just isn’t true.
Yesterday, the Religious Institute, which is “a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice,” published An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning. The letter was signed by more than 1,000 clergy from many different faith perspectives, and it demands equal access to contraception for all women.
“The denial of [coverage for] family planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing and is an insult to human dignity,” the letter says.
The Rev. Debra W. Haffner, president of the Religious Institute, said in a statement, “It is a critical misunderstanding to equate the minority of those religious leaders who have fought the coverage of birth control during the past year with threats and lawsuits, with the majority of people of faith in the United States who support access to contraception.
“Let us be clear,” she continued, “that support for religious freedom means that women must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without restrictions, regardless of their place of employment or geographical location. It is unethical for any single religious voice to claim to speak for all religious people in this debate.”
As Americans United noted earlier in the week, the Obama administration has made every effort to compromise with aggressive sectarian lobbies on this matter.
In a pluralistic society, we have to balance the greater good against religious liberty. This right isn’t an absolute. When it considered the subject 23 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that even if smoking peyote is part of your religious practice, the government can still arrest you for it. So observant soldiers might be required to fight on the Sabbath, or (if they are Quakers) fight at all, while Hare Krishna can’t play tambourines at the airport.
When a law is reasonable, as unintrusive as possible, and only incidentally affects religion, there is no exemption required. In other words: The Obama administration didn’t have to issue new regulations. But it did. The president didn’t have to placate the bishops, but he is trying to anyway. Maybe they should say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys in gratitude.
You really need to read the whole thing: What the Catholic Bishops Owe President Barack Obama: Margaret Carlson
In the main, reproductive rights organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America have praised the new rule. As I reported earlier, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is studying the rule, and I wouldn’t read that as a tacit endorsement. Studying a document like that before offering comment is the way the USCCB operates; rarely if ever does it issue an off-the-cuff assessment.
But the USCCB’s allies — other groups that oppose the contraception mandate — have wasted no time in lambasting the new rule as an inadequate protection of their constitutional rights. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal group that has led the charge of litigation against the rule, claimed that the rule “leaves religious Americans at risk.” Becket claims the rule fails to protect for-profit businesses and their owners; that the expansion of the exemption beyond houses of worship was inadequate; and that the accommodation to provide coverage to employees of religious organizations that were not entitled to an exemption was “convoluted’ and “may not resolve religious organizations’ objections to being coerced into providing contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees.” (When Becket refers to abortifacients, it’s referring to ella and Plan B, drugs that are emergency contraception, not abortifacients, according to the medical community and the Food and Drug Administration.) Other organizations raising similar objections include Concerned Women for American, Americans United for Life, and the American Center for Law and Justice.
As to private employers, the proposed rule takes note of the fact that private employers are not entitled to religious exemptions under other federal laws, such as Title VII, prohibiting discrimination in employment. Based on that precedent, the administration declined to extend an exemption to private employers here.
A New Hampshire lawyer who works with a virulently anti-gay Christian right organization has been found guilty of child pornography charges after videotaping a 14-year-old girl having sex with two men on multiple occasions.
Lisa Biron, 43, of Manchester faces a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison after a jury convicted her yesterday after deliberating for less than an hour.
Biron, arrested by the FBI last November, was accused of eight felony counts involving the videotaping of men having sex with the girl. She also allegedly made a cellphone video of herself having sex with the girl.
Biron, who claimed on her Facebook page (which was taken down, according to the Concord Monitor) that the Bible was her favorite book, had worked with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), formerly the Alliance Defense Fund, in defending a Pentecostal church in Concord in a tax fight against the city.
The Arizona-based ADF calls itself a “servant ministry” that seeks to transform the legal system and advocate “for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” The group issues dire warnings about “the homosexual agenda” and offers a book (available for a donation of $35) by its president, Alan Sears, and senior director Craig Osten, with that title. In the book, the authors claim that “the homosexual agenda” will destroy religious liberty and free speech. In one chapter, they claim that homosexuality on college campuses leads to pedophilia, and that homosexuality and pedophilia “are intrinsically linked,” a falsehood long perpetuated by the anti-gay right to demonize LGBT people.
In the wake of Biron’s arrest, the ADF removed all mentions of her from its website and Facebook page, and in a November CBS News report said that Biron was never an employee. The group has released no further statements on Biron. According to the LGBT blog Joe.My.God., the group continued to remove mentions of her from its Facebook page yesterday and banned anyone who posted anything about her.
This was on last night, I’m hoping there’s a replay coming so I can see it.
FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty is the human story of how the Founding Fathers viewed faith, and how they radically broke with the Western tradition of religion-by-law to create a nation in which belief in God is a matter of choice. The film is about the people who imagined a new way of approaching human and civil rights and ultimately transformed a nation and the world. Often misunderstood, sometimes purposely distorted, the religious feelings of America’s founders are approached on the basis of fact. From the most non-conformist to the most devout, the founders might sometimes shock or surprise modern sensibilities regarding religious belief.
For more than a century, a small, leather-bound book has sat collecting dust and attracting little attention in a gray stone library on the corner of Brown University’s Main Green in Providence, R.I. In a library full of old and obscure texts, the 234-page quarto was older and more obscure than most. Its brown, battered leather cover was blank, its title page missing, and its author unknown. Inside, a series of inscrutable symbols filled every inch of the book’s margins: Scrawled in black ink were what looked like a combination of Greek, Hebrew, and some wholly invented characters. Who wrote them? And what do they say?
The only hint came from an unsigned note attached to the book and dated Nov. 11, 1817. It read, in part, “The margin is filled with Short Hand Characters, Dates, Names of places &c. &c. by Roger Williams or it appears to be his hand Writing…. brot me from Widow Tweedy by Nicholas Brown Jr.”
Despite this intriguing reference to the man who founded Rhode Island and brought the idea of religious liberty to the New World, the book languished—until an offhand remark at a small lecture in 2010 led a team of Brown scholars and undergraduates to crack the code, confirm it was written in Roger Williams’ hand, and discover, this summer, his last known work of theology.
On a late fall day in 2010, Ted Widmer, then-director of Brown’s John Carter Brown Library, was giving a talk on Williams’ life and legacy to about 20 members of the Pembroke Club, a group of Brown alums. The attendees were “mostly people with either gray hair or no hair,” says Bill Twaddell, a retired diplomat and member of the library’s board of governors who sat in on the lecture.
At one point, Widmer (an occasional contributor to Slate) mentioned the book and the suspicion that Williams had authored the code in its margins. Twaddell’s ears perked up. Why not scan the code and let computers attempt to crack it?